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MMR Vaccine

6. Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): If he will make a statement on trends in the uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine over the last 12 months. [34705]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Yvette Cooper): The latest available evidence shows that the uptake of MMR at two years old stood at 84.2 per cent. in the summer and in the autumn of last year. The coverage by five years of age remained at more than 90 per cent., having fallen slightly compared with the previous quarters. Those figures were achieved despite extensive media coverage at the beginning of last year of unfounded claims of a link between MMR and autism.

Mr. Osborne: We shall have to wait until the figures are published to see what the effects of the publicity of the past few weeks have been on the uptake. Will the Minister answer the question that she refused to answer during the debate held in Westminster Hall this morning? If a parent, for whatever reason—however irrational the Minister feels they are—refuses to give their child the MMR vaccine, should the child have three separate vaccinations or no vaccination at all?

Yvette Cooper: The recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is clear. The Committee recommends the MMR jab as the safest way to immunise children against deadly diseases. The equivalent US committee has considered exactly the same issue within the past two weeks and has also concluded that it recommends only the MMR jab. It is not the job of the NHS to recommend something that is less safe and that would put more children's lives at risk. I really wish that Opposition Members would consider carefully the remarks that they make on this issue. It is disgraceful of them to play games with an issue that affects children's health and, ultimately, children's lives.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): In the light of the fall in the rate of immunisation and given the outbreak of childhood diseases in the London area and other areas, does my hon. Friend welcome the campaign

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by Sense—the charity for deaf-blind victims of rubella—to inform parents of the relative risks of immunisation and non-immunisation?

Yvette Cooper: I strongly welcome the campaign by Sense. One of the biggest risks in introducing separate jabs would be a dramatic fall-off in the coverage of rubella. Exposure to rubella among pregnant women can lead to serious cases of deafness and blindness in babies. That is not something that we want to return to in this country.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): I have to point out that, once again, the Minister has not answered the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne). It is a very important question. The Minister and I are in similar positions as mothers of small babies so she must surely appreciate the position of an individual parent. No matter how often the Minister says—with sincerity, I am sure—that MMR is the best route and no matter how much she believes that, she will not convince every parent in this country who has to take the risk to their own child into consideration. Will she not admit that it would be better to give three injections than none at all—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Yvette Cooper: I am sorry to hear that question—I really thought better of the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing). The evidence and the advice from the medical experts, in this country and abroad, has been extremely clear: MMR is the safest way to immunise children, and introducing separate jabs would put more children at risk. It would lead to reduced coverage. Coverage would fall because children would be left unimmunised for longer between the jabs and more children would not complete the course of immunisation. Recent research from Chester shows that two thirds of the children who are currently given separate jabs do not complete the course. That is very serious. We listen to all the advice from the experts, but Opposition Members are expecting us to reject advice from huge numbers of independent medical organisations—to ignore their advice and to go for the politically easy option of introducing separate jabs. That would be politically easy but it would put children's health at risk and it would be morally wrong.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): The Minister should know that 500 million MMR jabs have been administered worldwide since 1972, but not one scare has taken place in any country in the world, until that of the past year, caused by the political opportunism of the Conservative party. For the sake of allaying young parents' fears and for the sake of sanity and the health of young people in this country in the future, will the Minister and the Department engage in direct mailing or become involved in ensuring that GPs' surgeries inform parents of the weight of medical and nursing opinion behind the MMR jab?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right. The overwhelming evidence from and consensus in 90 countries across the world support the MMR jab, not separate jabs. That is exactly why the assistant surgeon

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general in the United States, the head of the vaccine programme of the Pan American Health Organisation, the regional adviser for communicable diseases of the World Health Organisation, the chairwoman of the Australian National Immunisation Committee and the chairman of the American Academy of Paediatrics have all recently contacted us to urge us not to introduce separate jabs and to stick with MMR.

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that parents need to be able to get answers to their questions; they are understandably concerned, given all the reports that they have read. That is exactly what we are trying to do.

Cancelled Operations

7. Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): How many cancelled operations there were in each of the last two years. [34706]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith): In 2000–01, 77,818 operations were cancelled on the day by the hospital for non-medical reasons. During 1999–2000, 60,242 operations were cancelled.

Mr. Prisk: Given that significant national increase and the fact that, in Hertfordshire, the number of cancelled operations has more than doubled in the five years since 1997, will the Minister explain why the link between bed blocking and the increase in cancelled operations matters? What will she do to reduce both those factors?

Jacqui Smith: A whole range of issues is likely to determine the number of cancelled operations. The Government are taking action through the Modernisation Agency and an £8.5 million project to ensure that good management and reform is in place to cut the number of cancelled operations. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already said, we are taking significant action and investing significant amounts of money to ensure that we tackle the problem of delayed discharge and its effect not only on the health service, but especially on the individuals whom it affects. We are also increasing capacity in the health service. Although we have not made much progress on that issue, we need to return to the fact that the Government are putting in place the reform and investment necessary to make the difference. Would Opposition Members support that investment?

Hugh Bayley (City of York): I welcome the Minister's statement about the action that the Government are taking to reduce the number of cancelled operations. However, to put the issue in context, will she confirm that, since the Labour Government came to power, the number of operations completed by the NHS has increased by more than 500,000, and that the answer is not to return to the Conservative approach of carrying out fewer operations, but to continue to put in additional resources, so that more people are treated by the NHS under a Labour Government?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is right. Not only are we performing more operations in the NHS, but we are achieving better outcomes in the NHS. The NHS and those people who work in it deserve congratulations on that. Of course, that is happening because the Government

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are increasing the capacity of the NHS to do so. For example, we have achieved our NHS plan pledge for 20,000 more nurses by 2004 two years early. Opposition Members described that pledge as preposterous. It is not preposterous; it shows that the Government are delivering for the NHS and its patients.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): As one of the most significant contributing factors to Portsmouth Hospitals NHS trust's failing was the high number of cancelled operations, will the Minister give an assurance that finance will play no part in the cancellation of further operations in our hospitals? Will she also consider whether the new private finance initiative franchising scheme for Portsmouth will have to carry forward the £3 million deficit? If it does have to do so, it will lead to even more operations having to be cancelled.

Jacqui Smith: I am not surprised that Liberal Democrats, following the lead of their health spokesman, should argue for more resources to go into the health service. We have no objection to that. This Government, in two spending reviews, have increased the amount of money going into the national health service by more than a third. However, that must be matched by the sort of reform that is also necessary to ensure that we reduce levels of cancelled operations—sharing best practice, ensuring that the Modernisation Agency brings about improvements and investing in diagnostic and treatment centres to split emergency and elective care. Money itself is not enough—it is crucial, but so is the reform with which this Government are accompanying it.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): Will the Minister confirm that the 77,818 operations cancelled last year for non-medical reasons represented not only a 50 per cent. increase under her Government but an increasing trend over the last year—up by 29 per cent.—and an increasing proportion of total operations? Even more worryingly, the number of patients not readmitted for their operation within a month has more than doubled. Although her response to the problem—spending £8.5 billion on appointing a gaggle of cancellation tsars—will no doubt have many patients dancing on their trolleys, will she tell our constituents, in layman's terms, her definition of non-medical cancellations? Furthermore, will she explain why, in her national health service, there are such wide variations in cancellation rates between hospitals, ranging from 0.1 per cent. to 18 per cent?

Jacqui Smith: Levels of cancelled operations in the national health service are too high. That is why this Government are reforming the service and ensuring that efficient management and systems are in place. Most important, we are increasing the capacity in the national health service. There were more beds last year for the first time in 30 years, more staff and an increase of 5.7 per cent. in the number of consultants working in the national health service. We are increasing capacity and investment. Will the hon. Gentleman support and reinforce that?

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